The Last of the Masters

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"It was this way before. Two centuries ago. They were unorganized. Unarmed. Vast mobs, without discipline or authority. Yet they pulled down all the governments. All over the world."

"The Last of the Masters" (1954) (aka "Protection Agency") is a science fiction novelette by Philip K. Dick. It was published by Hanro Corporation in the final issue of Orbit Science Fiction in 1954. It has since been reprinted in several short story collections, beginning with The Golden Man in 1980. The primary theme of the story is the conflict between anarchism and statism, the political and ethical dimensions of which are explored through the characters' dialogue.

Quotes[edit]

  • The little man with beard and glasses leaped up. "There's nobody here has anything to do with governments! We're all good people!"
    • A townsman, upon learning rumors of a hidden government.
  • You know I'm the only one who can keep all this together. I'm the only one who knows how to maintain a planned society, not a disorderly chaos!
    • Bors, the last government robot.
"My God," she said softly. "You have no understanding of us. You run all this, and you're incapable of empathy. You're nothing but a mechanical computer.
  • "Maybe," McLean said softly, "you and I can then get off this rat race. You and I and all the rest of us. And live like human beings."
    "Rat race," Fowler murmured. "Rats in a maze. Doing tricks. Performing chores thought up by somebody else."
    • Fowler and McLean, two engineers.
  • "As you say, they're actually a voluntary club of totally unorganized individuals. Without law or central authority. They maintain no society — they can't govern. All they can do is interfere with anyone else who tries. Troublemakers. But—"
    "But what?"
    "It was this way before. Two centuries ago. They were unorganized. Unarmed. Vast mobs, without discipline or authority. Yet they pulled down all the governments. All over the world."
    • Bors and Peter Green, discussing the threat posed by the Anarchist League.
  • "My God," she said softly. "You have no understanding of us. You run all this, and you're incapable of empathy. You're nothing but a mechanical computer."
    • Silvia, in conversation with Bors.
  • The system couldn't preserve itself; it wasn't a thing apart, something that could be separated from the people who lived it. Actually it was the people. They were identical; when the people fought to preserve the system they were fighting to preserve nothing less than themselves.
    They existed only as long as the system existed.
    • Bors, conflating the members of society with the bureaucratic system.

Quotations about "The Last of the Masters"[edit]

An ambiguity hangs over the morality of this story. Should we have a leader or should we think for ourselves? Obviously the latter, in principle. But — sometimes there lies a gulf between what is theoretically right and that which is practical.
  • A strange remnant of the world that was hid out in a mountain valley, ruled by a mind out of the past.
  • Now I show trust of a robot as leader, a robot who is the suffering servant, which is to say a form of Christ. Leader as servant of man; leader who should be dispensed with — perhaps. An ambiguity hangs over the morality of this story. Should we have a leader or should we think for ourselves? Obviously the latter, in principle. But — sometimes there lies a gulf between what is theoretically right and that which is practical. It's interesting that I would trust a robot and not an android. Perhaps it's because a robot does not try to deceive you as to what it is.
  • "...a lot of fowl in this book [The Golden Man (1980)] are turkeys. [...] An instance of this, from "The Last of the Masters" (1954), a hyperkinetic foray into hairy-chested-style huger-mugger. [...] If this isn't bogus machismo, John Wayne never had a career. But I suppose we all looked silly, we pulp writers of long, long ago, so I shouldn't cast the first stone."
  • In "The Last Of The Masters" Dick continues to make us aware of the paradoxical cast of human existence. [...] The small anachronistic society is gradually breaking down of its own entropy. Complete with a disciplined economic organization (but no market to supply) and a well-trained military (but no enemy to fight), the group exists at the will of a deteriorating pre-war robot master. Even as the Anarchists break the robot up beyond all salvage, one of the service men pockets a memory chip "just in case the times change."
  • The focus is on the sterility of a robot with a male name, Bors. [...] It is not clear why he does not replicate himself, or educate his human servants: it is simply a given that he is sterile. The old, technologically advanced, highly organized civilization is a civilization of production, but now under Bors it can do no more than maintain itself.
    • Palmer, Christopher (2003). Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool University Press. p. 92. ISBN 0853236186. 
  • Though he recognizes the dangers of relying on an elite or a government, Dick was more than aware of the problems at the other extreme [...] Though the anarchists triumph, Dick does not vindicate them, keeping it clear that the robot had certainly accomplished something in that valley, though it had eventually gone too far.
    • Barlow, Aaron (2005). How Much Does Chaos Scare You?: Politics, Religion, and Philosophy in the Fiction of Philip K. Dick. Lulu.com. p. 248. ISBN 1411633490. 
  • ...there's a Christ-like robot in need of repair parts in Phil's 1954 SF story "The Last of the Masters".
    • Sutin, Lawrence (2005). Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 297. ISBN 0786716231. 
  • It is made clear at the end of the story that, while there are disadvantages to global anarchism, they are more than outweighed by the effective abolition of war that has followed from its adoption.
  • Dick's attitude to highly-developed clever machinery is... far more complex than blanket suspicion hostility. Intelligent machiens sometimes feature in his early work in much more benign roles, as in "The Last of the Masters" (1954), which features an altrustic [sic] robot.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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